5 April 2021
When I was in Parliament the then NSW Labor Government had an inquiry into WorkChoices, which was the Howard Federal government’s preferred industrial relations model. It was, as the Liberals said, an political inquiry designed to criticise what Howard was doing. (Historians will recall that it cost the Howard government s lot of votes).
But both Unions and Employers came and lobbied me, as did Labour Hire business owners. The Labour Hire companies said that they could get a better deal for the employees as they were negotiating on their behalf with employers and if they had special skills the employers would have to pay for these. I asked them how much commission they took on this as obviously employers would have to pay their commission as well as the subcontractor’s payment. They were very reluctant to be specific on this point as it was ‘variable’. But it did seem to me that the chief objective was to make the worker a private subcontractor rather than an employee and thus remove award pay rates, holidays, sick leave, workers compensation, and bargaining power. The Labor Hire company was often just a commission agent, though some employed the workers.
It seems that this model of getting rid of direct employees has evolved and is now standard in many industries. I have seen a woman accidentally stab herself in the forearm while boning chickens at 3.30 am on a 12 hour shift, a man shoot himself in the heart with a nail gun trying to assemble flat pack kitchens alone and RSI in a hotel worker so advanced that it has made no recovery in 3 years, after being expected to clean high-end hotel rooms, including making the bed, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom in 12 minutes each.
‘Subcontractors’ may have no awards, no unions, no OHS and no redress when people are ripped off. The lumbering ‘Fair Work Commission’, out of sight and out of touch seems to make very little difference to a Darwinian model.
Let us see if criminalising wage theft makes any difference. There are a lot of laws on the books that are never enforced.